022121 Human Condition (toned)

Federal officials recently announced that they expect to put final state population totals from the 2020 census into the hands of the secretary of commerce by the end of April. That got me reflecting back on the time I spent last summer and fall helping to gather some of the raw information for that report.

Some things only come around once in a blue moon: Halley’s comet, Brigadoon, and the census.

If the first two don’t ring a bell, ask your parents.

The third one, the census, should still be somewhat fresh in everyone’s mind.

Almost a year ago, in the grip of COVID cabin fever, going door to door as a census enumerator seemed like a worthy endeavor. So, I applied.

This past summer, the Census Bureau called my bluff and selected me to go door to door here in Baton Rouge. So, I got to see how the census intersects with everyday life.

On one hot, humid south Louisiana afternoon, a young woman, who couldn’t help seeing the beads of sweat rolling down my face, said, “I don’t have any bottled water, but would you like a juice box?” Turns out, on a hot day, a juice box is one of humankind’s best inventions.

Another day, after answering the census questions, a very tall young man who’d just relocated to Baton Rouge, had a question of his own: Where could he find a saxophone gig? The Census Bureau’s training had managed to completely overlook that topic. But, the training had emphasized flexibility, so this enumerator suggested a few venues where gig notices might be posted.

On another afternoon, an apartment door opened and the aroma from a young woman’s stove forced me to ask, “What is that wonderful smell?” It was chicken cacciatore, from her late mother’s recipe. We agreed her mother had left her a wonderful legacy.

Then, there was the young family I interrupted in the middle of home-schooling. It not only answered the census questions, the family brought everybody onto the front porch to hear me give an impromptu lecture on the history of the census.

Each of these strangers touched my heart, in their own way.

Why? Part of it is learning a little about a fellow human being. Part of it’s being willing to go off script. And part of it is simply having a moment of human contact — the opportunities for which were an unexpected gift from COVID and the U.S. Census.

— Collins lives in Baton Rouge

Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to The Human Condition at features@theadvocate.com or The Advocate, Living, 10705 Rieger Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence, and, if writing about yourself, a photo.